Resistance Trainings Hold So Many Benefits
The impression given by a lot of people nowadays is that resistance training is only meant for those looking to put on lots of serious muscle and gain lots of strength. Well, yes, it’s true that resistance training can and should be used as an optimal method by those looking to gain significant amounts of muscle and development high levels of strength, but, resistance training has a much more varied and multi-functional role than simply trying to turn those that want it, into serious weightlifters.
Not everyone wants that! However, even if things like bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman etc are not part of your long-term goals, resistance training still holds an enormous amount of value in getting you one step closer to the body you want. There are just too many benefits to resistance training to ignore!
Benefits of resistance training?
⇒Increased muscle tissue
⇒Stronger bones, ligaments, tendons
⇒Improved regulation of metabolism (easier to regulate bodyweight through increased daily calorie expenditure – more muscle, more calories burnt at rest)
⇒Improved posture and mobility (stronger shoulders, reduced back pain)
⇒Reduced risk of injuries from daily activities
⇒Increase in work capacity (ability to do more work and recover quickly from it)
⇒Increased mental toughness
⇒Improved body composition (more muscle, less excess fat)
⇒Heaps of benefits! But are these benefits for everyone? Let’s find out!
Not Just For The Younger Crowd
In my experience, resistance training has a positive reputation amongst younger crowds whilst those older (here I mean 50+ in age), tend to be more hesitant about it. Having trained in many gyms, I very rarely see older crowds participating in properly structured resistance training plans. Most shy away and tend to stick to the cardio type work. Ok, not a problem, it’s great for cardiovascular fitness! But then you are missing out on all the diverse benefits of resistance training that cardio, won’t give you. Perhaps they may utilise a few resistance machines here and there, but nothing that is going to allow them to reap the full spectrum of benefits that a properly structured resistance training program can give you.
⇒Lots of older gym goers want to get fitter, stronger and be more functional in everyday life, but still shy away from incorporating resistance training to any large extent. If you are doing cardio, great! But, if you really want to function better in most everyday activities, then a good resistance training program is what you need to start incorporating.
Concerns About Injuries
So, why might the older crowd shy away from resistance training? What are their concerns? Well the obvious answer is a potential run in with injuries. A lot of people have the idea that the older you get, the more likely you are to injure yourself lifting around barbells and dumbbells. The body just can’t handle what it could when it was younger. Well I will be honest with you; whether you are younger, older or the fittest person person on the planet, the risk of potential injury is always going to be there and it’s always going to be huge if you approach your resistance training in the wrong manner.
I have met a few incredibly strong older people and are still going strong well into their 70s/80’s. But guess what? They haven’t been injured, why? Simply because they have implemented resistance training programs with all the correct components and programs that are optimised for their current physical capabilities. In other words, their resistance training program provides just enough stimulus to allow them to reap all the benefits, but in a way that’s not going to throw their bodies overboard into injury territory. On the flip side however, I have seen many young guys getting injured constantly simply because their resistance training approach is just not sub-optimal, screams injury and, is not tuned to their current physical abilities. Their body is just not ready for their current level of resistance training work.
The fact is, being older doesn’t make resistance training any more dangerous than if you were 20 years younger. What does make it dangerous (whether you are young or older) is if you haven’t planned your resistance training to take into account your abilities, experience and current physical limitations. Simply put, if you try to push yourself too hard from the get go without knowing your current limitations, you risk pushing your body too much, too hard, too fast. That will cause injury. Young or old, resistance training can be incredibly effective, provided you work up slowly, know your current limitations and where to build up from and, balance ‘training stress (stimuli) with recovery (and injury prevention).
How might injury arise during resistance training?
⇒Lifting too heavy relative to what you can safely handle (Not working up slowly)
⇒Poor movement execution (bad form)
⇒Poor mobility, flexibility and posture
⇒Unbalanced training programs (too much machine work, not enough emphasis on basis human movement patterns, potential muscle imbalance, injury-inducing movement compensations)
⇒Not accommodating your resistance training program to your current level of training experience (e.g. if you have never squatted, then start off with a bodyweight squat, then progress to a dumbbell squat, then finally a barbell squat. Don’t jump straight into a barbell squat!)
The bottom line: It does not matter whether you are younger or older, the risk of injury is always high if you do not properly plan your resistance training in line with your current physical capabilities. Being older doesn’t make you more susceptible to injury from resistance training if done right. It’s the failure to incorporate a properly planned training program that tuned to your bodies current limitations that will get you injured (regardless of whether you are young or older). It’s about building up your resistance training program in a controlled, smart and sensible manner.
Mighty strong older people do exist!
So what does the science say about resistance training and the benefits to older people?
Borde et al (2015) investigated the effects of different resistance training variables (e.g. volume, intensity, frequency, training period and rest intervals) on muscle strength (1RM) and muscle morphology (cross sectional areas) in those healthy, 65 and older.
The results (Muscular Strength)?
⇒It was found that resistance training produced a large effect on upper and lower extremity muscle strength (1RM)
⇒2-3 sets per exercise, with 7-9 repetitions produced the largest increases in muscle strength
⇒Intensity ranges of 70-79% of 1RM produced the largest increases in measures of strength
⇒2-3 resistance training sessions per week produced the greatest increases in muscle strength
⇒The longest training period (50-53 weeks) produced the greatest increases in muscle strength
⇒A time under tension of 6 seconds produced the greatest gains in muscle strength
⇒A rest time of 60s between sets and 4s between repetitions seemed to produce the greatest gains in muscular strength
The results (Muscular Size)?
⇒Two resistance training sessions per week (in place of 3) provided the greatest gains in muscle morphology
⇒2/3 sets per exercise and 7-9 repetitions provided the greatest changes in muscle morphology
⇒Training at an intensity of 51-60% of 1RM provided the greatest changes in muscle morphology
⇒Rest times of 120s between sets and 0.36s between repetitions elicited the greatest changes in muscle morphology
⇒A time under tension of 6 seconds elicited the greatest changes in muscle morphology
⇒Resistance training has a positive effect on muscle strength and size in healthy old adults. Moreover, training variables such as volume, intensity, time under tension, frequency, rest intervals, training time can all have a positive influence on muscular strength and size.
Borde et al (2015) Figure shows the effect of rest time between sets on muscular morphology in healthy, older people. Mean times of ~120s produced the greatest increases in muscular size.
Borde et al (2015) Figure shows the influence of training intensity on muscular strength in healthy, older people. A mean intensity of ~70-79% of 1RM produced the greatest increases in muscular strength.
Steele et al (2017) investigated the effects of 6 months high effort, progressive resistance training in 23 older adults (aged 61 to 80) over a period of 6 months on changes in body composition, strength, function and well-being. Participants conducted 2 resistance training sessions per week (with at least 48 hours rest between sessions). Each session begun with a general 10 minute warm up (e.g. cross-trainer, treadmill), followed by a single set of moderate load leg press, chest press, and seated row exercises for 15 repetitions prior to each training session. In each training session participants conducted knee extension, knee flexion, trunk flexion, trunk extension, chest press, seated row and leg press.
⇒After the 6 months of training there were significant improvements in body composition, muscular strength, function and well-being outcomes
⇒There were significant improvements in body composition through decreases in fat mass, fat percentage and, increases in muscle percentage
⇒Participants reported increases in functional ability, able to carry out everyday tasks better (stair climb, grip strength and carrying tasks, all significantly improved during the resistance training period)
⇒There were significant improvements in 1RM strength on chest press, leg press and row exercises following the resistance training period
⇒Resistance training is an effective manner of improving body composition, strength, function and well-being in older adults. Moreover, these improvements might serve to transfer into everyday life: through improvements in general activities such as carrying objects, walking up stairs, navigating around objects, sitting and standing up and, walking.
Steele et al (2017) Figure shows the reduction in stair climbing activity time in older adults after 6 months of resistance training. They were able to climb stairs faster!
Steele et al (2017) Figure shows the reduction in chair raise time activity in older adults after 6 months of resistance training. They were able to get off a chair and stand up faster!
Unhjem et al (2015) investigated the effects of 8 weeks heavy resistance training on evoked reflex recordings in the triceps (H-reflex responses* and V-wave measurements*), maximum voluntary contractions (MVC) and rate of force development (RFD) in 7 elderly males (~74 years of age) compared with 7 young males (~24 years of age). The elderly males trained 3 times per week, while the young participants did not partake in resistance training. They simply served as a reference group at baseline.
*In ageing adults, the reduced efferent (neural) drive to muscles can lead to reduced muscular strength. H-reflex is simply a measure of motoneuron excitability (motorneurons simply originate from the spinal cord and connect directly with your muscles providing them with the power to operate). V-wave measurements give an indication of supraspinal activity on these motorneurons (basically how well your brain regulates the activity of these motorneurons, which in turn control the activity of your muscles). Therefore, H-reflex and V-wave measurements give a nice indication of how well your brain and spinal cord regulate the activity of your muscles.
⇒At baseline both H-reflex and V-wave responses were lower in the elderly participants in comparison with the younger controls.
⇒After 8 weeks of resistance training, V-wave responses were increased (but still ~40% lower than the younger participants).
⇒An increase in V-wave activity were also accompanied by increases in MVC and RFD in the elderly males after 8 weeks of resistance training.
⇒There was no change in H-reflex activity
⇒Resistance training can lead to improvements in muscular strength as observed by increases in MVC and RFD. Furthermore, resistance training might elicit this strength enhancing effect in elderly adults through enhancing neural drive from the brain. This improved neural drive from the brain would serve to enhance the activity of the muscles thus leading to increases in strength.
Unhjem et al (2015) Figure shows the changes in V-wave activity, muscle lean mass and MVC in elderly males (white bars) and young males (black bars). After 8 weeks of heavy resistance training, there is a significant increase in muscle lean mass and MVC (indicated by a star) and an increase in V-wave activity. All together, neural drive to muscle is improved and as a result, muscular strength is improved in elderly males.
Krist et al (2013) investigated the effects of 2 months of resistance training, twice per week, in 15 nursing home residents (~ 77 years of age) on mobility (Elderly Mobility Scale) and muscle strength (8RM). In each training session, the participants utilised a chest press, rowing machine and butterfly reverse for the upper limbs, and leg press and leg extension for the lower limbs. Each exercise was performed at 3 sets, 8 repetitions, with 1 minute rest intervals between sets.
⇒Following 2 months of resistance training, the elderly participants reported significant increases in elderly mobility scale scores and 8RMs.
⇒Resistance training might serve as a useful tool to improve mobility and strength in mobility-impaired adults. This could help these adults perform simple and complex daily activities, better.
Krist et al (2013) Figure shows the increase in mobility in mobility-limited elderly people after 2 months of resistance training. Pre (before resistance training period). Post (after resistance training period)
Krist et al (2013) Figure shows the increase in 8RM (muscular strength) in mobility-limited people after 2 months of resistance training in a range of resistance exercises.
Resistance Training Provides Lots Of Benefits
Looking at a selection of research that has been done, it’s clear that resistance training has the potential to offer a range of benefits in elderly people. It’s not just something that young people and competitive athletes do! Resistance training can help improve muscular strength, size, body composition, mobility, well-being and, possible age-related neural decline effects. All together, these positive influences could help vastly improve the quality of life for these people, allowing them to perform everyday activities better and safely.
Any questions, ask away!